Title: Director of innovation
Size: $16.15bn market capitalisation; 43,090 employees
SHIFT WORK: Making communication simple within a global enterprise
Gilberto Garcia has always been curious. At the age of four, his mother enrolled him in school, two years before children usually start in Mexico. By 19, he had graduated from university with a degree in computer science engineering. Today at age 49, curiosity propels his work at Cemex, the giant Mexico-based building-materials firm, where Mr Garcia is director of innovation.
“I am always looking for disrupting technologies that have an impact on the business performance,” he says. “That’s how social media came to my attention in 2008 and 2009.”
Mr Garcia had a chance to put social technologies and principles to work in 2009, when Cemex’s chairman asked him to develop a social business strategy to improve collaboration and innovation across geographies. At that point, the company mainly used conference calls and video conferencing to connect its employees, who today number 43,090 worldwide. That system was cumbersome because of the many time zones and languages employees had to accommodate.
“It was quite difficult to have interactive communication,” Mr Garcia recalls. “We were looking for something more dynamic.”
Mr Garcia helped create Shift—as in “shift the way we work”—an online platform for Cemex that provided open forums where employees could communicate and share ideas about products and work processes. Shift offered forums for various areas of expertise, and employees quickly started using them to solve problems, improve business practices and drive innovation. The platforms also offered blogs, wikis—collaborative online documents—and videos to collect new ideas and demonstrate new ways of doing things.
“When we started in 2009, there were very few companies doing this,” Mr Garcia says. “We were fortunate to start early. But it was also unknown territory for us, so it was very critical to gain credibility with business results.”
The biggest challenge was changing the perception of some employees that using social networks was a waste of time, Mr Garcia says. He and his team planned the implementation carefully, creating profiles of 12 types of individuals who might respond in different ways to change. For instance, a senior executive unfamiliar with technology might need to be convinced about its value to his or her team, while a young executive excited about new things might be willing to join an online focus group.
In 2010, Cemex added a translation feature to Shift that allowed workers to communicate with one another in different languages and still be understood. It created forums where customers and suppliers could interact with company experts—and even began using an algorithm to determine which expert was best suited to answer a specific question.
Mr Garcia thinks the use of social technologies will continue to grow at Cemex and elsewhere. “Nowadays, I’m seeing big and middle-sized companies jump on this,” Mr Garcia says. “Social business is constantly evolving, and I think it will evolve to become the universal workplace of corporations.”
The key is to operate openly and broadly across a company. Silos “bring more complexity”, he says. “We believe in making it simpler.”